Today I found myself commenting on a post regarding the reading of the number cards, or the pip cards, in a tarot pack, which reminded me of how I made myself unpopular a few years back when I resisted the Alejandro Jodorovsky and Philippe Camoin’s method.

‘No,’ I kept saying to whoever was willing to listen, ‘it’s not always about your father and your mother. And sure, the method of following the gazes of the court cards is a powerful thing, but it’s neither new, nor ground-breaking.’

Although I appreciate greatly this duo’s contribution to modern cartomancy, I find reducing everything to a culturally loaded opposition problematic. So I’ve said the following today, which I will repeat here, for the sake of spreading the good word.

In cunning-folk cartomancy you will not find gender metaphors associated with questions that are not about gender. In that sense the cunning-folk method is smarter than Camoin’s school that tends to reduce everything to the father/mother, male/female relation.

Although we all talk about the same shit, I find metaphors that describe universal oppositions in neutral terms to be much more on target than the ones that come with cultural baggage.

I like to think of the number cards as they emphasize breathing, such as inhaling and exhaling, distance, such as far and near, speed, such as slow or fast, and so on. Cups are slower than batons, coins are in your palm, while the tip of your sword is at arm length. I find these distinctions to be far more conducive to precision in readings than to blame it all on your father.

Just for fun, then, as these days I’m not interested in merely squaring off against other people’s methods of reading, I’ve decided to ask the cards themselves what they thought is the best method to apply when reading the pip cards.

I used three decks: A Marseille deck (Jean Noblet, 1650), a playing-card deck (original hand-stenciled Grimaud 1850), and a Lenormand deck that combines symbolic images with a traditional playing-card deck (Leipzig reproduction 1850/1984).

The Marseille says:


The best method is to think of the pips in terms of how they increase or decrease the tension that characterizes the preceding number’s action. If 2 crossed batons talk about oppositional action – for better or worse (something that the suit decides: if cups, grand, if swords, disaster) – 3 will increase that force. Going from 3 to 9 is pretty fast, so you’ll probably need to change your tempo and have a drink at some point. You can then start over. All is well.

The Grimaud says:


Be clever. Keep your house in check. You don’t need lots of shit to keep it simple. All is well.

The Lenormand says:


Can you know what a letter contains until you open it? Nope. So stop agonizing about the mystery of them 7 spades, and have faith that the news is good. Sometimes your heart’s desires manifest. All is even better.


I often say that the best method of reading the pip cards is to think of color and number progressions. A bad card ends your sequence, too much work (10 batons), too much stabbing (10 swords)? Too bad. Try again. Maybe next time you’ll get to see coins and cups flooding your life: 10 is better than 2. Indeed, as Shakespeare put it, ‘all’s well that ends well.’

I like the simplicity of this, as it avoids the trap of making too many assumptions, the trap of putting too many words into people’s mouths without their permission, and the trap of underestimating people’s basic intelligence.

By associating even numbers with women, because they supposedly look like women’s genitals, and assigning the odd numbers to men, because they supposedly carry the action forward, we come close to committing not only the gender difference fallacy, but also offending the ones who do not see themselves as part of the culturally determined loser group – read that as receptive, passive, open, wet, soft, slow, near, and so on. In other words, women.

The cartomantic folks of old knew how to stay away from muddling the discourse, and thus actually show some respect where respect is due.


As this stuff gets me going, I’ve ended up saying quite a few more similar such things recently, in my book on the Marseille Tarot.  Enjoy a sample preview here.

For more cunning-folk inspired common sense, see also Enrique Enriquez’s works.


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Published by Camelia Elias

Read like the Devil | Martial Arts Cartomancy | Zen

23 thoughts on “ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

  1. Funny this post came up. I just started reading The Way of Tarot and it sparked a nerve when I read that bit about feminine and masculine… How narrow minded, if you feel the need to constrain a character behind labels don’t read cards as you’re wasting everyones time.

    1. Jodorowsky makes some good points throughout, but it’s clear that although he doesn’t want to be ‘symbolic’ in his interpretations, he leans heavily on Freud. Now, as it happens, I’m a Freud fan, but I think that seeing everything through the perspective of the metaphors feminine/masculine, especially as these metaphors disclose a cultural hierarchy, not a universal opposition, is missing a significant point. If you watch some of Jodorowsky’s video clips of short moments when he reads the Tarot, while he may have a point, you will see that there’s hardly ever any punchline, or some narrative that doesn’t end with these cliché: ‘That Hermit, he’s your father, he was absent from your life’, or ‘The Empress, she is your mother’, or ‘The Moon, your mother too’, or Judgement, your mother and your father are having a blast, or ‘The Tower, your father ejaculating.’ I mean, that’s the point when I go, ‘Really? Give me a fucking break. Can you please read the cards not some reductive archetypes?’

      1. Exactly. I find finding his book having a strange tone that is offputting, I think it’s the arrogance that denounces other tarot decks but I’m trying my best to get through it.

        With the cunning folk method the logic can be applied universally to many decks where his method seems fused to too much that’s been imposed. “She is your mother, he is your father”. Why? Because of their gender? Nah we can do better than that.

    1. Thanks. I’m still waiting for the big box containing my complimentary copies. As soon as I get it, I’ll send one to you. Looking also forward to hearing your thoughts about my book. Wonderful to have it anticipated like this. Cheers.

      1. At last i got my copy of your “Marseille tarot” from Amazon, and what an interesting book! This will be read to the core!

  2. Uhm, speaking of male/female archetypes… I have a question about Lenormand cards if it doesn’t trouble you. As it happens, I’m pretty confident with Tarot, but Lenormand is fairly new to me. From what I’ve read, you use the Gentleman or the Lady as the querent card, which seems nice and straight forward. Just pick the one that matches your gender and you’re set. The problem being arises, though, when you’re a card reader who identifies as neither male nor female. What card should be used then? Is there anything in the Lenormand deck that could work as a querent card instead?

    1. I would stick with the tradition and still maintain the male/female aspect, but allow for this variation to play out: I’d go for assessing the physical features and temperament of the querent and the other the querent may happen to want to know something about: What is their physical stature? Tall or short? If tall, I pick the man to represent them. If short, the woman. Long or short hair? If long, I go with the woman. If short, with the man. What is their temperament? Are they active? If yes, I pick the man. If not the woman. Although I don’t believe in these hierarchies myself, as obviously we can easily encounter tall women who are active and have short hair, insofar as culture believes in them, we oblige, when there’s nothing else to do, when there are no androgynous cards to operate with. Alternatively, this is what I propose: take any card from the deck that appeals to you as a significator, and exchange it with either the man or the woman significator cards. But then remember also that if you exchange the woman with the birds, then you must assign the same qualities to the woman card as you do to the birds card once it pops in a reading or a grand tableau. Good luck with the swapping. Don’t get stuck in any bourgeois imagery. What matters is that you stick to the method and the common sense behind it. Whether the tool illustrating the method gets to be represented by an iron rod or a woman, is really quite beside the point.

      1. Thanks for your advice! I think that does helps a lot!
        “Whether the tool illustrating the method gets to be represented by an iron rod or a woman, is really quite beside the point.” I do understand this, it can just be quite frustrating if you’re trying not to be seen a certain way to have to use a card that represents that, even if you, yourself, understand that it’s just for the sake of practicality. I’ll give your swapping method a go, thanks again!

    1. No. When the batons are in the air, they work with the wind. When the swords are in the air, they work with the skills of whoever holds them. And last I’ve checked, man has never been faster than the wind. Also, the batons in the earth grow faster than the iron, or minerals that go into a sword.

      1. Ah good thinking. “Simple Devon, keep it simple and down to nature” I’m telling myself.

  3. I’ve only just found your blog and fell upon this post of yours. Interesting to say the least 🙂 As a reader who has been using Enrique Enriquez’s style of interpreting the cards long before I ever heard of him, I have to agree with your summation of the minor arcana. The lazy method of reading any tarot deck is to put it into a pigeon hole by reciting someone else’s defined meanings or by cataloging various cards or arcana into mediocre stereotypes. Like the Major Arcana the Minor Arcana holds a deep substance that can be unlocked by an opened mind and read with open eyes.

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